Saturday, 17 October 2015

Film Review - Narrative Structure - Falling Down


Falling down is a 1993 film featuring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall, the film consists of one man's grips and observations on society. 

In the prelude Michael Douglas's character is named William Foster (Michael Foster), a middle aged man suffering from a mid-life crisis; he is divorced from his wife who does not want to share custody of their daughter and has recently been sacked from his job as a defence contractor. Foster's wife has been granted a restraining order against him which forbids him access to his daughter, this is a major source of frustration for him and serves as an indirect catalyst for his actions.

The Protasis of the story begins with Foster who is stuck inside his car in the middle of a traffic jam suffering from a heatwave, an annoying fly and the rants of other drivers. The combination of these elements drives him over the edge and he abruptly abandons his car without regard and begins his journey across the city. Also introduced is police detective Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall) who is due to retire after one last day of duty, Prendergast also faces obstacles notably his police chief who professes his disdain for Prendergast and his overbearing wife who constantly calls with regard to trivial matters.

Foster's first act of violence occurs when he comes across a convenience store owned by a Korean proprietor to buy a soda in order to generate change for a phone call to his wife, when the owner refuses to lower the price of the soda Foster insults the owner's unrefined grasp of English and promptly assaults the owner. Foster smashes up the store in a fit of anger over the overpricing of the store's merchandise and takes money from the register. This marks the beginning of Foster's tirade and his rampage. Detective Prendergast is put on the job of investigating the robber, this is the first plot point at which the two stories start to become involved with each other. 

The second act (obstacles) begins to occur here, Foster calls his wife throughout the film in an attempt to attend his daughter's birthday, when his wife refuses him this privelige he becomes increasingly unhinged and subsequently his crimes become more violent. Foster's ultimate goal is to reach his wife's house and attend his daughter's birthday but enroute he encounters people or situations that threaten his journey and he begins to vent his rage in violent tirades against the hypocrisy and inequality of society. 

Figure 2 - Foster prepares to destroy the roadworks

For instance he comes across a traffic jam held up by roadworks and blows up a digger after accosting the workmen about the reasons behind their roadworks (which turn out to be about budgets and not actual repair work). He crosses a golf course attended by wealthy clients and shoots out a golf cart causing one of the golfers to suffer a heart attack. Some of his tirades concern trivial matters, in one case he machine guns a phone booth after a waiting man complains about him "taking too long". 

Foster crosses the line of no return when he visits an army surplus store to find some hiking boots, the racist, neo-nazi owner identifies Foster as the man who held up the fast food resturant and mistaking him for a fellow racist invites him to the back of the store and attempts to share his neo-nazi views with him. Foster does not reciprocate these views and struggles with the owner before shooting him dead.

Prendergast in the mean time follows Foster's rampage and gets closer and after identifying Foster's car by its license plate and visiting Foster's mother he begins to bear down on Foster. Prendergast however faces his own difficulties; his overbearing wife continues to call him and his colleagues play good natured but awkward retirement pranks on him straining his investigation. Despite this Prendergast manages to identify Foster and after piecing together information about him discover that he is heading back to his home to his wife.

At the end of the story we reach the Catastrophe stage as Foster finally comes into contact with the consequences of his actions; he manages to reach his wife's house but she has fled in fear with their daughter. Prendergast also arrives with a partner and Foster initiates a shootout that wounds Prendergast's partner. Foster later tracks his family down to a pier with Prendergast in close pursuit. The final act sees Foster attempting to reconcile with his daughter but his wife gives him the slip and escapes, Prendergast holds Foster at gun point. 

Foster finally relents knowing that he will mostly likely never see his family again and that he will be facing a huge jail sentence. He complains to Prendergast about his sufferings, Prendergast sympathises but does not accept Foster's rampage as an acceptable act. Foster finally forces Prendergast to shoot him in self-defence after pulling a water gun out. This marks the climax and subsequently removes the conflict from the film. Prendergast's story is not finished however and he ultimately decides to remain with the police.

Illustration List 
Figure 1 - Joel Schumacher, 1993, falling-down-1993--00.jpg [ONLINE] Available at:
Figure 2 - Joel Schumacher, 1993, Falling-Down-michael-douglas-28475910-1280-527.jpg [ONLINE] Available at:


  1. Great choice of movie Max. It's a literal 'ticking bomb' plot with the central character as the time bomb. You can't get a more straight up example of plot driven film (May be with exception of Speed). This film is also a great example of character arcs and cross cutting.

    1. Thanks Alan :) yes, I enjoy this movie quite a bit!